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by Dan and Jan Ahart
"We avoid pure idleness and brooding, knowing the dangers of both in forced confinement. It is healthier and much more amusing to reflect on other vessels, other crews, and other times, and try to discover why it is in this day and age that any person supposedly possessed of his wits will insist on moving from one place to another under sail." That quote was from "Song of the Sirens," by Ernie K. Gann. Mr. Gann is one of my favorite authors. He was at one time an airline pilot, a commercial fisherman, renowned sailor and best selling author. Perhaps his most famous book was, "The High and The Mighty," a story about an airline flight from Hawaii to San Francisco, which became a movie by the same name starring John Wayne. The movie score, by Dimitri Tiompkin also became a hit on the pop music charts in the 1950s.
Back to the story. Mr. Gann was exactly right. Being forced to sit in a marina or harbor and wait for better weather, or in our case, parts for a reluctant water maker can try one's patience. Since leaving Pass-A-Grille, we have been in the St. Petersburg area now for almost three weeks. To occupy the time, we have been to several marinas talking to various experts about the various systems on Sojourner. Our goal has been to get all systems working and gain understanding about how they work and what to do if they don't work. She's a complex boat and before we undertake any prolonged voyage, we want to be comfortable with all her systems and capabilities. Our approach takes time, but it seems to work and we have met many very nice people. One of the frustrations of waiting in this area is that there are so many boat shows going on all the time that the various suppliers are often unavailable because they are manning booths at some boat show trying to sell new products. Of course we attended the sailboat show ourselves, so we can't complain too much. But we are getting tired of waiting for busy repairmen, who are difficult to reach by phone, who, when they do come and look, always need to order some arcane part that takes more time to arrive. However, we make them educate us as they work, so we can make the repairs ourselves the next time.
An unexpected bonus of visiting many marinas and anchorages (safe places to anchor in bays and coves) is the opportunity to observe manatees. These big, slow and friendly creatures are still an endangered species, but we are told they are more numerous now than a few years ago. Believe it or not one or two have even visited Dog River in Mobile, Alabama recently. There are signs along most of the waterways in Florida warning boaters to slow down around known manatee habitat. We have seen several manatees. Some have been quite close to us. Some seem to take up residence in certain marinas and the locals get to know them by sight and even give them names. Manatees need fresh water to drink, so even though they can live and swim in salt and brackish water, they must visit rivers from time to time to obtain fresh water. We were shown photos of manatee being fed fresh water from a garden hose. They sucked on the hose as a baby would a bottle. Apparently, manatee can detect fresh water from some distance, so leaving a water hose with fresh water running in a saltwater marina attracts them and eventually they become very tame. Their movements are agonizingly slow. They remind me of a waterborne sloth. And they are not particularly attractive, but they are interesting and everyone we have met seems to care a great deal about their welfare. Most of the time they are very shy, surfacing for a breath of air and then disappearing again, but if the water is clean enough they can be seen feeding on grasses or just sleeping a few feet under water.
An interesting thing about boats that have traveled far and wide as Sojourner has, is that an interesting mix of parts accumulate here and there. I'm sure it is born of necessity in that when one needs repairs or parts in a faraway place like say, Timbuktu, one takes what one can get. Any old port in a storm as the saying goes. As a result, many boats like Sojourner, have both metric and inch sized parts. So, we carry tools in both metric and inch sizes. We also find an interesting mix of different threads on bolts and fittings, so we have taps and dies with us so we can create whatever thread we need for the occasion. It makes life interesting. We are waiting for a new boost pump for our water maker. We have heard from many sources that fresh water is not given away in the Bahamas and many Caribbean islands as it is here in the States. In fact, we have heard that potable water can cost anywhere from 50 cents to two dollars a gallon in the Bahamas. The problem is that there is precious little natural fresh water on most islands, so water is usually made or transported in. However, technology has allowed cruisers like us to obtain equipment that will convert salt water to fresh water. The process is called reverse osmosis and it works very well, but it is somewhat complicated. Our system requires two pumps. A boost pump and a high pressure pump. The former was inoperative, so we are waiting for an acceptable replacement. The pump is due tomorrow, so we should be on our way the next day.
Speaking of potable water gives me an opportunity to talk about the changes one must accept in moving from land to cruising on a sailboat, or any boat for that matter. It requires certain behavioral changes if any degree of success is to be achieved. The changes include the use of lights, refrigeration, water, toilets and handling of trash. Let's begin with lights and refrigeration. Unlike the unlimited electricity available on land, boaters use batteries for electrical energy. Granted, the engine, or engines can recharge the batteries and most live aboard cruisers also have diesel or gas generators or photo voltaic cells or wind generators to recharge batteries. But conservation is still a necessity. Lights must be used on an as-needed basis, and shut off promptly when not needed. Refrigeration, if it is electric as opposed to propane, can use a lot of electricity. Most live aboards eventually develop a routine, which results in ample battery power by running a generator or the engines about two hours each day. The alternative is go to a marina, pay a daily fee and plug into shore power.
Since water is always a concern, one must not waste it. We carry two built-in 60 imperial gallon water tanks (there is an example of non-American measurements), plus emergency containers with an additional 10 U.S. gallons. By the way, an imperial gallon is equal to 1.2 U.S. gallons, so our built in tanks hold 72 U.S. gallons each for a total of 144 U.S. gallons. That may sound like a lot, but a person can go through 5 gallons per day very easily. To conserve water we wash with salt water and rinse with fresh water. Water used for washing and cooking averages about four gallons per person per day. The balance of our water use is for drinking. Compared to other sailors we have talked to, our water consumption is high. But we like to shower every day. To give us variety with our drinking water, we use a lot of powdered drinks like Tang and Country Time Lemonade. So, by limiting ourselves to 5 gallons each per day, we have about 14 days fresh water supply. Hence, we have a keen interest in being able to make our own fresh water. We use whatever water we are floating in for supply. The wastewater must go into holding tanks that are either flushed at sea when we are over three miles out or are emptied in pump-out stations just like RVs. That becomes a concern also, because a holding tank will only hold so much and one must plan ahead for proper disposal.
Trash disposal is also an interesting subject. By international convention, no plastics of any type are ever permitted to be thrown overboard anywhere, period. Plastics just do not biodegrade and must be disposed of ashore. Other items can be disposed of at varying distances from land, but the bottom line is that a lot of plastic accumulates on a boat and must be taken ashore for disposal. Try buying anything in a store that doesn't come in plastic and you will begin to appreciate the problem. Fortunately, most all marinas have pump out stations and trash disposal facilities. So far, the boaters we have encountered take wastewater and trash disposal very seriously. No one wants to pollute the environment and besides, all the coastal states have police that patrol in boats to enforce the law and off shore the Coast Guard enforces the law. By the way, unlike police on the streets, the U.S. Coast Guard has Constitutional authority to board any boat at any time for any reason. They don't need probable cause or a search warrant. We have never been stopped by the Coast Guard, but we always give them a friendly wave when we see them. We have been stopped twice, but never boarded by marine police, who enquired as to our registration and required safety equipment such as life preservers and fire extinguishers. All in all, I like having the law around.
Our next destination will be Key West
and the Dry Tortugas, which are islands that lie about 55 miles Southwest
of Key West and are the home of Fort Jefferson. Our trip there will be the
subject of the next chapter. Stay tuned.